Smbat Sparapet’s Letter to King Henry I of Cyprus

The author of the History of the Tartars, Het’um the Historian, was the nephew of King Het’um I and Smbat Sparapet (commander-in-chief) of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, both of whom were knowledgeable informants by virtue of having made the multi-year journey to the Far East (Smbat in 1247-51, and Het’um in in 1254-55). Smbat described some of his observations in a letter to his brother-in-law, King Henry I of Cyprus, which was apparently written from Samarkand. The letter has survived and the following is an English translation of it from the Old French by Sir Henry Yule in Cathay and the Way Thither (1866).

Smbat Sparapet’s Letter to King Henry I of Cyprus, ca. 1248 

“We understand it to be the fact that five years have passed since the death of the present Khan’s father [Ogedei], but the Tartar barons and soldiers had been so scattered over the face of the earth that it was scarcely possible in the five years to get them together in one place to enthrone the Khan. For some of them were in India, and others in the land of Chata, and others in the land of Caschar and of Tanchat. This last is the land from which came the Three Kings to Bethlehem to worship the Lord Jesus upon His birth. And know that the power of Christ has been, and is, so great, that the people of that land are Christians—and the whole land of Chata believes in those three Kings. I have myself been in their churches and have seen pictures of Jesus Christ and the Three Kings, one offering gold, the second frankincense, and the third myrrh. And it is through those Three Kings that they believe in Christ, and that the Khan and his people have now become Christians. And they have their churches before his gates where they ring their bells and beat upon pieces of timber... And I tell you that we have found many Christians scattered all over the East, and many fine churches, lofty, ancient, and of good architecture, which have been spoiled by the Turks. Hence the Christians of the land came before the present Khan’s grandfather, and he received them most honorably, granted them liberty of worship, and issued orders to forbid their having any just cause of complaint by word or deed. And so the Saracens who used to treat them with contumely have now [received] like treatment in double measure... And let me tell you that those who set up for preachers [among these Christians], in my opinion, deserve to be well chastised. Let me tell you, moreover, that in the land of India, which St. Thomas the Apostle converted, there is a certain Christian king who stood in sore tribulation among the other kings who were Saracens. They used to harass him on every side, until the Tartars reached that country, and he became their liegeman. Then, with his own army and that of the Tartars, he attacked the Saracens, and he acquired such booty in India that the whole East is full of Indian slaves—I have seen more than 50,000 whom this king took and sent for sale.”